Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Tour de France Starts Today

The most demanding event in all of sports gets underway today. This year the Tour de France starts in London, of all places, where the prologue, or time trial, pits riders against the clock on a short course of five miles. Tomorrow, the peleton will gather for the first road stage; following the path of Chaucer's pilgrims, they will ride from London to Canterbury. If there is an early crash, as often happens, some of the 189 riders won't even make it across the Channel.
After three weeks, the surviving riders will roll into Paris after 2,205 miles through France, over the Alps and Pyrenees, heat, cold, rain and wind.

Cycling has been plagued by a series of doping scandals. Last year's winner, Floyd Landis could be stricken from the race's annals of champions for testing positive for an artificial form of testosterone in his blood after his astonishing breakaway with just three days to go, and after he lost ten minutes the day before. It was a performance that may have been too good to be true.
Cycling polices its riders like no other sport. Riders are randomly tested every day of the Tour. If you win a stage, you give a sample. (Imagine if Barry Bonds had to submit to testing every time he hit a home run.)
The consensus favorite this year is Vuelta d'Espana (Spain's three week tour) champion Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, who finished third in 2003, and didn't ride last year after half his team was disqualified for doping violations. He's brutally tough in the mountains and has a strong team that includes Andreas Kloeden, who finished third last year and last year's Giro d'Italia (Italy's three week tour) champion Paolo Savoldelli. These guys will put down a rugged pace in the mountains, and should be able to chase down anyone who tries to get away from their leader.
Other contenders include Spain's Oscar Pereiro (who could yet be declared last year's winner), Australian Cadel Evans, and Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who finished second in the Vuelta. Levi Leipheimer of the Discovery Channel team is considered the American with the best chance of a podium finish. He's a nimble climber who should be up there with the contenders when the Tour reaches the mountains. His teammate Alberto Contador could put up a big showing, He won this year's Paris-Nice and Castile e Leon at the surprising age of 24.
But before the G.C. (General Classification) battle begins in earnest, the sprinters come to the fore, with their mad dashes to the finishing line. After a week the Tour will come to the Alps, where the serious winnowing out of the peleton will begin. And after the Alps come the Pyrenees.

The Tour is once again being broadcast on Versus, live in the morning with replays in the afternoon and evening.
Photo: AFP


Anonymous Anonymous said...

TDF will be watching. Drugs or no, what these guys do on a bike is just amazing!

10:58 AM, July 07, 2007  

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